Tag Archives: Connie Boswell

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

CLASSICS MADE NEW: DAWN LAMBETH, KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, MARC CAPARONE, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest

What Phil Schaap calls “the swing-song tradition” — a nimble swinging singer accompanied by an equally swinging group — is epitomized for most people by the 1933-42 recordings Billie Holiday made with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and other luminaries.  However, it was going on before Billie entered the studio (Connie Boswell, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey) and it continues to this day (Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Barbara Rosene, Petra van Nuis, and others).  Dawn Lambeth shines in this setting, and the three performances captured here at the San Diego Jazz Fest both reflect the great tradition and show what joy and art these musicians bring to it.  (I was reminded often, as well, of the late-life recordings Maxine Sullivan made in Sweden, which are very dear to me.)

I know that the tradition wasn’t exclusively female — think of Henry “Red” Allen among others — but I am holding back from making a list of all the swingers.  You’ll understand.

If you more evidence of Dawn’s magic — and the band’s — before proceeding, I invite you to visit here and here.  She sounds wonderful, and there’s fine riffin’ that evening.

Here are three beauties from that same set.  First, Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF (which is really quite a lament — but not when swung this way):

Then, the tender ONE HOUR — someone is sure to write in and say that it is really called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT.  Yes, Sir (there are no Female Corrections Officers in jazz-blog-land!) — by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer:

And finally, Mr. Berlin’s I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, with thanks to Fred Astaire, as always:

To quote Chubby Jackson, but without a touch of irony, “Wasn’t that swell?”  I certainly think so.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.”  Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree.  I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo.  In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars.  I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version.  And that Louis had done so also.

First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):

Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:

and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:

and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:

May your happiness increase!

TWO NEGATIVE STATEMENTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, MAKE A POSITIVE ONE (November 27, 2016)

ill-never-say-never-again-again

Two negative statements can make a positive one.  Oh, how very positive.  The song here is the nearly-impossible to sing I’LL NEVER SAY “NEVER AGAIN” AGAIN, by the one and only Harry Woods, and for most of us immortalized by Henry “Red” Allen or Connee Boswell when the song was new.  (Benny Goodman featured it in the Sixties, and in our time there’s a delectable version by Rebecca Kilgore.)

The narrative premise of the song (no doubt arising from the wordplay of the title) is that a couple has had some disagreement — what people used to call “a spat” or “a fight,” and the singer is now repentant, swearing endless high fidelity, which is always a nice concept.

But what we have here isn’t a matter for couples counseling or an exploration into the archives of recorded sound. Rather, it is a sweetly frolicsome duet — I think of Earl and Louis in the wings, grinning — between two of the masters, Ray Skjelbred at the piano and Marc Caparone on cornet — at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2016:

This performance is dedicated to all those wise enough to kiss and make up.

May your happiness increase!

DICK, RYAN’S, FIVE CONNIE-SIGHTINGS, and PEE WEE

An eBay assortment of curiosities!

A Forties photograph autographed to Dick — by Count Basie (who seems to have signed it first in some careful way, then inscribed it on the site) and Jimmy Rushing:

TO DICK BASIE RUSHING

An autographed flyer for Jimmy Ryan’s — that jazz oasis (after a fashion) of West Fifty-Fourth Street, featuring Roy Eldridge, Bobby Pratt, Joe Muranyi, Dick Katz, and Ted Sturgis, Eddie Locke:

JIMMY RYAN'S DIXIELAND flyer

Collectors of sheet music know that the artists pictured or photographed on the cover may have had only the most tenuous connection to a particular song (I’ve seen copies of — among other oddities — WHEN THEY PLAYED THE POLKA featuring Adrian Rollini, LITTLE SKIPPER featuring Bobby Hackett, and LIGHTS OUT featuring Louis, which of course they may have played.)  But here are five Connie Boswell-sightings, circa 1931-33, both reassuring and elusive.

One:

CONNIE ONE

Two:

CONNIE TWO

Three:

CONNIE THREE

Four:

CONNIE FOUR

Five:

CONNIE FIVE

If anyone has acetates of Connie singing these songs, do let me know!

For those who want the rarest Boswelliana, check out the official Boswell Sisters eBay store — http://stores.ebay.com/theboswellsistersstore — which is run by Kyla Titus, Vet’s granddaughter, so you know the treasures are authentic. You can also visit it at helvetia520 — which has a 100% approval rating from buyers.

And this — I know that Al Bandini, a trumpet player who for a time ran the band at the Riviera in New York (which still exists, although serving food rather than music)  and Pee Wee Russell collaborated on GABRIEL FOUND HIS HORN, but this was new to me:

PEE WEE sheet music

I note with pleasure that this song comes from Mr. Russell’s Boston period, circa 1945, and find it particularly affecting that it was part of a music therapy program, which is more than apt.  (Someone outbid me on this, which is fine with me, although I won’t have Pee Wee gazing down at me from one of my apartment walls, alas.)

Draw your own conclusions about provenance and what it might mean that these lovely odd artifacts are bubbling to the surface.  I’m just delighted that they are.

May your happiness increase!

FATS, CONNIE, BUNNY, LIPS, BIRD, CHICK

As the people who were swing / jazz / popular music fans in the Thirties and Forties leave the planet, their possessions come up for sale on eBay.  This makes me mildly sad — let’s make money off Gramps’ stuff! — but it is far better than the beloved artifacts being tossed in the recycling bin.  Four treasures that are or were for sale.  I don’t know who Joe Walsh was.  But I do know that Fats Waller autographed this photograph in green fountain pen ink to him:

FATS TO JOE WALSH full

and a magnified view:

FATS TO JOE WALSH detail

Fats Waller’s best wishes are always free, thankfully:

DO ME A FAVOR:

WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU?:

and then there is Carol (Lotz) Lantz:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL front

and the back:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL rear

and the provenance:

Signed and inscribed to CAROL (Lotz) Lantz, daughter of Charles Lotz (1891-1965), a prominent band director from Canton, Ohio. Apparently Boswell performed sometime with Lotz’s band and signed this photo for his daughter. From the Lotz family collection.  SOURCE: From the archives of the World War History & Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, Ohio. WWHAM designs and delivers WWI and WWII exhibits to other rmuseums. Our traveling exhibts include Brushes With War, a world class collection of 325 original paintings and drawings by soldiers of WWI, and Iron Fist, an HO scale model of the German 2nd Panzer Division in 1944 with 4,000 vehicles and 15,000 men.

A little sound from Connie, on a 1936 fifteen-minute radio program in honor of the charms of Florida — with Harry Richman and Fred Rich:

Then there’s Joe Williams, someone I reasonably sure is not the singer:

BUNNY to JOE WILLIAMS

Bunny was proud of his beautiful handwriting, and this one looks authentic. So is this music — A 1938 Disney song (with Dave Tough and Gail Reese):

And one page from a serious scrapbook (with signatures of Chu Berry and Ivie Anderson) belonging to L. Sgt. McKay:

HOT LIPS PAGE to McKay

This record may not be the finest example of Lips (or Lip’s) trumpet playing, but it has a sentimental meaning to me — if I may name-drop — that when I was at Ruby Braff’s apartment, this 78 was leaning against the wall.  So it’s doubly meaningful:

And the Yardbird:

BIRD

Finally, something quite rare: a Chick Webb photograph I’ve never seen before, signed by the Master, who was embarrassed (according to a Helen Oakley Dance story) about his poor handwriting:

CHICK WEBB autographed photo

And Chick in an unusual setting — with an Ellingtonian small group (and Ivie):

I am fond of being alive, and dead people don’t blog, but I wish I’d been around to ask Fats, Connie, Bunny, Lips, Bird, and Chick for their autographs.

May your happiness increase!

“IT WASN’T LONG TILL WE WERE HOLDING HANDS”

Our subject for today is a 1936 pop song of no great merit — a pastiche really — by Al Sherman, Abner Silver and Jack Maskill.  I can imagine it being the result of three songwriters sitting around and chatting.  “Hey, what about a Hawaiian song?” “Not more Hawaii!  Pick someplace else.  All it has to have is a beach.” “Yeah, that ____ works.  But enough of the ______ hula maidens and the ______ pineapple calling me home to the islands.”  “Yeah, we have to have a gimmick to load this _____ into the jukeboxes, get those ______ royalties.” “What about this.  Boy meets girl in some ______ island and then they find out they used to live next door down South.”  “You mean the song that’s got everything?” “Yeah.  Bet you drinks that we can get this done in an hour.” “You’re on!”

BALI BALI

I don’t really know if the Brill Building gents really spoke like this, with enthusiastic expletives redacted here, but it pleases me to imagine rather cynical craftspeople turning out popular art that charms me still, eighty years later.  And the mixing of genres on the sheet music cover is most remarkable, but I gather that the couple is enjoying the tulips and their cottage while recalling those tropical moments . . .

Here are three variations on that theme.  The first, Tommy Dorsey’s version with vocal by Edythe Wright.  Some call the early Dorsey band “Dixieland-flavored,” as if true culture didn’t happen until Sy Oliver started writing arrangements and Sinatra began to woo, but this record rocks. You don’t have to wait for Bud Freeman to make a late appearances — on one of those delicious bridges — because the Blessed Dave Tough is making himself heard and felt throughout.  I would urge listeners to hear this performance once as a totality, and then concentrate on the orchestral delights Dave offers:

Then, Miss Connie  Boswell’s.  What an irresistible groove — and her return for the final sixteen bars is like a triumphant aria in Hot.  Some of this is thanks to the  Bob Crosby band of the time — Yank Lawson, I think, and certainly Matty Matlock:

But we save the real multi-layered delights for last, Henry “Red” Allen and his Orchestra.  Even when they’re playing the melody fairly straight — for dancers — with Henry’s bridge, it’s swinging from the start.  And his singing is so personal (boyish and hot) that no one could mistake him for anyone else:

What happens after the vocal is wonderful — a mixture of timbres and approaches beginning with a trumpet solo that could and should have gone on for years.  One of the many times I’ve felt, “That record is too short!”  But what a joy to have it — with Tab Smith and a very sedate J.C. Higginbotham.

What’s the sermon or the lesson?  Great musicians transform ordinary material with memorable results.

May your happiness increase!

MARITAL RELATIONS, RESUMED

All I know is what I see here.  1933, The Boswell Sisters, three names on the sheet music — one of them, Gerald Marks, famous for his part in ALL OF ME.

SECOND HONEYMOON

Thanks to the unlimited online resources of YouTube and more (posted by enthusiasts worldwide), we can now hear a 1932 recording of this song by Enric Madriguera and his orchestra, vocal chorus Tom Low.  It’s a rather formulaic “We broke up and are now back together again” lyric, although the bridge has some witty touches:

If Connie and the Sisters had been able to record all of the songs they were associated with, how much larger their musical legacy would have been! If I listen hard to the Madriguera version, I can almost — but not entirely — create an imagined Sisters’ version in my head. Almost.

May your happiness increase!

TWO NEW GLIMPSES OF THE SISTERS

First, a neatly posed tableau from the UK (via eBay):

BOSWELLS

and then we find the Sisters, circa 1930, in a Hawaiian mood:

IT'S TIME TO SAY ALOHA Boswells

The Sisters were always full of surprises, so it’s fitting that these posthumous delights should keep surfacing.  And I know there are more to come — a splendid book and a remarkable documentary film!

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AS A SONG: MISS CONNIE BOSWELL

My most recent eBay purchase — prewar, I assume, since Miss Boswell had not yet become Connee.  Beautiful, no matter how she spelled it.  Both the inscription and the signature look authentic, although perhaps signed at different times — no matter.

That distracting object to the right is courtesy of the precise eBay seller — it didn’t come in the package.  Miss Boswell was larger than any ordinary measuring device, we know.

DSC00508

Here is another representation — vibrant, passionate, yearning, full of feeling: sounds that will be resonating long after pieces of paper have faded and crumbled:

and a clip from the 1941 KISS THE BOYS GOODBYE, where Connie sings SAND IN MY SHOES (Victor Schertzinger – Frank Loesser) before and after Eddie “Rochester” Anderson’s star turn — turns, to be accurate:

She and her Sisters were a marvel, and they haven’t been replaced.

May your happiness increase!

CONSIDER THE HYPOTHETICAL GLASS, PLEASE

Full glass

You know the expression that the glass is half full or half empty?  In “real life,” whatever that is, full glasses are meant to become empty.  Someone offers you a glass of water, seltzer, pomegranate juice, single-malt Scotch, Bosco, Amarone, Campari, iced tea . . .

But it is a valuable metaphor for perception.  What do you see when you look around you?  Full, half full, half empty?  In extreme cases, is the glass in bits?

But back to JAZZ LIVES.  My friends from near and far — people I know and those I might never see in person — have been VERY generous in helping me replace the equipment I lost.  (See LOST, LOST II, and NICKEL if all this is unfamiliar to you.)

Nancie B, Clint B, David S, Romy, Janie, Steve W, Nancy B, Eric E, Davy, Rochelle and Ray, Cornelis, Doug, Harriet, Miz Roo, Rob, Janie, Steve A, William C, Scott A, Uwe, Liam B, Jim and Rebecca, 軍司 善久, David P, DMP, Eric D, John W,  Ron C, Nick R, Carl S, Joan B, Dipper, RaeAnn, The AudioFixer, Joel P, Lorna S, Knut K, Rich L, Dan T, Marce E, Markus L, Ross and Gail, Michael McQ, James Mc, John S, Eric E, Bob C, Judy P, Hermano 1861, Bassface, Bob A, Candace B, Les E, Joseph V, Jose RE, Yvonne A, Julius Y, Shiraz S, Other Michael, Big Daddy Russ, Sue F, The Man in the Street, M. Figg, Jerome, Mister Leon and Ms. Brenda, Andreas K, Pete N, Laura W, Bill G, David McL . . . .

With friends like this, my glass can never be empty — because they will always be around to refill it.  And I hope to return the favor through music and words.  Every nickel — and every good wish and effusion of positive energy, every prayer — has helped a lot.

Love and thanks, Michael

Or . . . to put it the 1936 Connie / Connee way:

GEE BUT YOU'RE SWELL

May your happiness increase.

I’VE GOT SIXPENCE . . .

but I’d rather hear the Boswell Sisters sing this song.  Here’s a lovely souvenir of their 1935 visit to the United Kingdom.  Thank you, eBay!

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD Boswells UK

And when I grow too old to dream — I hope this doesn’t happen — I’ll still remember Connie, Vet, and Martha.  I promise.

May your happiness increase.

WHY THE BOSWELL SISTERS MATTER: A HARMONIOUS CHAT WITH KYLA TITUS (December 8, 2012)

I had the great privilege of meeting Kyla Titus for the first time in person on December 8, 2012, at Cindy and Joel Frank’s delightful house.  Kyla is the granddaughter of Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, with whom she was deliciously close.  Also with Connie / Connee Boswell.  Martha Boswell had died before Kyla could know her, but Martha was everywhere in spirit.

I had another great privilege that day — that of asking Kyla to share her thoughts and feelings about the Sisters.  Did you know that a Boswell Sisters book and documentary are on the way?  Well, you will know a little more after this video.

But mostly you will share the rare honor of being close — through the medium of cyber-space — with a person animated by the spirits of people she loves very much, people who live through her.

More to come.  But let us be harmonious in our daily lives!

May your happiness increase.

CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA: SOUL SISTERS!

I’ve been thinking about Connie (or Connee) Boswell for the last few days.   This was one wonderful provocation, found on eBay.

I wasn’t around in the era when a pretty girl would come up to my / our table in a night club, take a flash picture of us, and return with copies — a great momento of an evening out.  But here’s a piece of paper that evokes that experience:

LOOK PLEASANT PLEASE! is always good advice, but this charming souvenir of days gone by has an even more important flip side:

Yes, Connie Bowell in 1942.  It would be impossible to look anything but pleasant if she were on the scene.

But my thoughts wandered to the larger question.  The Boswell Sisters were the most hip singing group on the planet — with deference to the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Andrews Sisters, and a long line of male and female singers, as inventive as they are.  But they aren’t as well-known as they should be.  In their time, they were admired and respected by the most innovative musicians in the business, including Bing Crosby and the Dorsey Brothers.  But the Sisters didn’t stay in the limelight for decades (they would have been astonishing on television every Sunday night).  Musically, they also present a paradox.  The casual listener, only mildly attentive, can say, “Oh, that’s another vocal group with a nice beat.”  But I think that the recordings and performances the Sisters left for us are so rich with information, with textures, that listeners find themselves overwhelmed: the music is too dense to be properly ingested as a pleasant background.

Consider this:

That performance swings as hard as anything recorded up to 1932: I would put it head-to-head with the Bennie Moten band or anything else you’d like to name.  Of course, the Sisters had several other things that made them less well-regarded than they might be.  They weren’t tragic; they were Caucasian; they were popular; they were women.

Connie Boswell went on to great success in the decades after the Sisters (Helvetia, “Vet,” and Martha) decided to retire from performing in 1936.  But she, too, suffered from the curse of being apparently stable and popular.  There was a more famous singer — her name was Ella Fitzgerald — who said she owed everything to Connee.  And Ella said it over and over to anyone who would listen.

Connie was one of the most soulful singers ever.  Her opening choruses are masterpieces of deep feeling and respect for the memory; her voice a thrill.  Her second choruses show what a superb improviser she was . . . straight from New Orleans but with her own deep swinging identity.

Consider this:

I don’t want to suggest that Connie, Vet, and Martha “suffered” — but I think in a society that didn’t insist its women singers be beddable, a world that didn’t see race or gender but just heard the music, they would be heroic figures today.  They had SOUL.

May your happiness increase.

UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and BOB DRAGA at SWEET AND HOT 2011

The Reynolds Brothers bring it in a gratifying hot, witty way.  More from these Swing Masters and clarinetist Bob Draga, recorded outdoors at “Rampart Street” at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  (“Rampart Street” is something of a joke born of necessity: sharp-eyed viewers will see that the imagined ceiling of this outdoors stage is a highway ramp.) 

For this set, the Brothers were Ralf (washboard, vocal); John (guitar, banjo, vocal, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal); Larry Wright (alto sax, ocarina), with the nimble lines of Bob Draga weaving in and out.

Is there anything finer than DINAH?

The band that has Katie Cavera in it is doubly or triply gifted — instrumentally and vocally, as she demonstrates on DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?

Nothing but BLUE SKIES do I see:

Perhaps because the odd stage, John came up with OUT OF NOWHERE for his homage to Harry Lillis Crosby:

Translate the lyrics to the Fields-McHugh DIGA DIGA DOO without being politically incorrect and win a prize — or just get swept along by the fine momentum here:

SADIE GREEN (The Vamp of New Orleans) . . . was a hot mama, and this tune is a heated improvisation in her honor — half vaudeville, half rocking jazz:

I have a special fondness for OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN — one of those 1931 songs designed to make the homeless and unemployed feel that their lot was endurable . . . but the sentiments it espouses (a love of Nature, freedom from materialism, and a Thoreau-like simplicity mixed with a hip socialism) touch a responsive chord, as do the Brothers in this performance:

I’m as happy as I can be (even though my heart feels a chill) when the Reynolds Brothers SWING THAT MUSIC.  And Marc’s singing is just grand:

Yeah, man!

P.S.  A reader wrote in, “I love the Reynolds Brothers, but why does the one with the washboard [that’s Ralf] keep blowing that whistle?”  Youth wants to know: Ralf blows that whistle when a member of the band creates a particularly hoary “quotation” from another song — it’s in the interest of fairness, a referee calling FOUL.  Now you know.

P.P.S.  Connee Boswell’s rendition of the beautifully sad song UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES should be better known, especially in perilous economic times.

NEW OLD TREASURES!

Here are the very exciting results of our trip to an antique store in Vallejo and a community thrift store in Benicia — both less famous towns in California.

I know this isn’t a terribly rare piece of sheet music: it was a hit in 1920 and people still request it today.  But I love the Art Deco cover, and I had never heard anyone sing the verse.  That verse intrigues me because of its indirection.  The singer doesn’t say, “I’ve got a girl named Margie, and she’s great,” etc.  No, there’s a little story:

One: You can talk about your love affairs,

Here’s one I must tell to you;

All night long they sit on the stairs,

He holds her close and starts to coo:

Two: You can picture me most ev’ry night,

I can’t wait until they start;

Ev’ry thing he says just seems all right,

I want to learn that stuff by heart:

Thus the setup for the chorus is coming from an eager but less-sophisticated young man who wants to take Lessons in Love.  Who would have guessed it?

Not jazz by any means, but captivating.

I hadn’t known that Russ Columbo was RADIO’S REVELATION.  Having bought the sheet music for YOU CALL IT MADNESS, BUT I CALL IT LOVE, I’ve learned something both new and essential.

I had never heard or heard of this 1929 song (lyrics by Charles Tobias and Sidney Clare, music by Peter DeRose).  By no means is it an unknown classic, but here are the lyrics to the bridge: “He plays most everything the masters wrote / He plays them heavenly and doesn’t read a note.”  Hot enough for me.

This one is a treasure for obvious reasons and more.  I knew this lovely song from Bing’s 1931 recording, but had no idea that it has been associated with Miss Connie Boswell.  And it has a personal meaning for me.  My father was born in 1915, and the songs of his childhood became the songs of mine, even though I didn’t exactly know the titles or the complete versions.  He is dead almost thirty years, and I can still hear him singing, “Leaves come tumbling down / ‘Round my head / Some of them are brown / Some are red,” although I don’t think he ever got as far as the bridge.  I think he also sang it to his granddaughters, several of whom might remember the tune.

Since I mentioned Harry Lillis Crosby, I shall bring forward one of the real gems of my paddling through cardboard boxes of shredding sheet music (invariably on my hands and knees).  I have only the cover of this song, but I think it’s a worthwhile find:

Handsome young fellow, isn’t he?  (Even with that hairpiece.)  I think he has a real future, than Bing.  With or without the other Two Rhythm Boys.  (Incidentally, if you haven’t heard John Gill’s Bing tribute — with his Sentimental Serenaders — recorded for Stomp Off — you’re denying yourself pleasure.)

And since nothing beats an unusual 78 rpm record in mint condition, let me share this one with you.  It looks anything but interesting, but I have hopes:

Now, John Conte was not a pseudonym for Red McKenzie or Boyce Brown, and the other side looks just as far away from hot jazz as the first.  But the TEEN TIMER label stopped me from going on to the next record.  Perhaps twenty-five years ago, the musician and scholar Loren Schoenberg (who now heads the Jazz Museum in Harlem) had a weekly radio program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, and one of his august guests was the tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome.  Jerry brought along a number of rarities, and one of them sprang from a radio program (circa 1944) for which he led the house band.  The TEEN TIMERS orchestra was an astonishing collection of the best New York City studio players / hot soloists.  I remember Chris Griffin and Will Bradley, Hymie Schertzer, Johnny Guarneri, Eddie Safranski, and Dave Tough were in the band — identifiable not only by their sound, but because that day the program might have run short, so the players were allowed to stretch out on a ONE O’CLOCK JUMP where they were identified by name.  (I learned online that it was a Saturday morning show on NBC; the singing star was Eileen Barton — later to have a big hit with IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING, I’D A BAKED A CAKE) and the announcer was Art Ford — late 1944, early 1945.  So TEEN TIMERS — perhaps a hopeful effort by Apollo Records (for whom Jerry did some producing of sessions) to attract the bobby-soxers — has the possibility of a hot obbligato or a lovely ballad interlude on this disc.  Or perhaps a Dave Tough cymbal accent.  We live in hope.

Are there any JAZZ LIVES readers who recall this radio program?

Finally, you might be able to intuit how pleased I am with my finds.  They didn’t cost much; they don’t weigh a great deal; they are filled with sentiment.  But perhaps I should let Stuff Smith indicate the state of my emotions?

P.S.  A note on what some folks call “provenance”: most of the music above (and some I didn’t photograph — a Frank Crumit comedy song called I MARRIED THE BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER) came from the collection of one musical young woman.  I could trace some parts of her life: in one phase, she was Stella Carberry (in block capitals); in another, she signed in lovely cursive Stella Maria Pisani.  The copy of MARGIE belonged to Stella’s sister or even sister-in law (I am assuming) Tessie M. Pisani.  Objects have their own lives and they reflect the people who once owned and loved them.

THE THREE FACES OF CONNEE (or CONNIE)

and even more romantic:

and more informally, for Decca, with some singer:

AND she sang like an angel . . .

I ASK YOU. WAS IT?

The same deep moral question, asked twice:

Connie, Martha, and Vet Boswell, with Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, Dick McDonough, Stan King and other luminaries.  The annotation above is enticing but not correct: this is (I believe) recorded for Brunswick Records in 1932, but it was so “unconventional” — hear the dead march interlude — that recording supervisor Jack Kapp (who hung the WHERE’S THE MELODY? sign in the Decca studios) insisted that the Sisters remake this song:

The issued version is much more bouncy, its message slightly muted by the faster tempo — but the improvisations can’t mask the seriousness of the essential question, can they?  It’s not simply a song of romantic wounds and betrayal, I believe. 

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CONNEE BOSWELL, 1934: “ISN’T IT A SHAME?”

Even though Ella Fitzgerald insisted that Connee Boswell was her first and perhaps greatest influence, Connee hasn’t been given her due.  Perhaps because there hasn’t been a proper reissue of her solo recordings (as opposed to the well-deserved attention given to the recordings she made with her sisters) listeners don’t pay enough attention to her solo work.  For me, she is the poet of yearning — consider the first chorus of this recording and of IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE — and then she moves from deep pathos and loss to a lighter, more jazz-like approach for the second chorus.  It’s not only great singing; it’s wonderful acting and dramatization, making us forget that the song isn’t terribly deep on its own.  Listen, and listen again:

And thanks to the superb singer Melissa Collard for reminding me of this YouTube posting.

TEDDI KING / CONNEE BOSWELL

Two of the finest singers of the twentieth century, remembered on paper.

Miss Teddi King, “cute and pert,” ready to be the “Queen of Rush Street” in Chicago, 1959:

And the reverse: this photo may have been printed in the Chicago Tribune:

A publicity photograph of Teddi for a 1966 stint at the Playboy Club:

Connee Boswell, looking lovely and wistful:

A later autograph, when she’d changed from “Connie” to “Connee”:

And a few mysteries.  Did Connee ever perform this song on the radio?  Its composers are entirely unknown to me:

And two Fifties sides — presumably early rock ‘n’ roll, compositions by Connee herself?  Does anyone know what these sound like?

Was this Connee’s version of HOUND DOG?

Or was someone masquerading as our Connee?  Can anyone explain?

JAZZ RELICS

A recent eBay search turned up still more paper delights.  Collectors sometimes call these “ephemera,” suggesting, I think, that they were not meant to last.  But the evidence indicates that these treasured items have a reassuring permanence.  See for yourself:

The most famous of the irreplaceable Misses Boswell — apparently before she began signing her name with two E’s.

Perfectly self-explanatory . . . from Roy’s long run on Fifty-Fourth Street.  And the bar opened at 10 AM!

Again, perfectly self-explanatory.  But I want to know the story behind this unused ticket.  Who got sick or couldn’t go?  That tale needs to be told.

Lucky “Pat,” a Swell Fellow indeed!  And lucky us . . .

This blurry Christmas card looks unimportant, even cheaply produced, until you see the signatures and realize its rarity.  Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy weren’t married for a long time (or happily, for that matter) so they can’t have sent out years of Christmas cards.  Immensely rare and perhaps immensely sad.  (For the precise readers out there, I do know that Jess was happily married, later in life, to Pat Peck, but I am taking the eBay seller at his or her word when the card is presented as from Jess and Lee.  It would have been nice to see their signatures, although they may have been printed, too.)

SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT

During the Swing Era, it seemed that swinging women singers (the trade magazines called them “chirps”) were everywhere: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Maxine Sullivan, Helen Ward, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Connee Boswell, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Teddy Grace, and two dozen others.  Now, many years later, the ranks have thinned to a very precious few.  Many of the more famous “jazz singers” veer unattractively into melodrama of one kind or another.  I won’t sully this blog by listing their names, but they have little relation to the art as we know it. 

What might jazz singing consist of — leaving aside the more colorful extremes exemplified by genuises such as Leo Watson and Betty Carter?  How about a neat yet undefinable mix of these qualities: feeling (strong yet controlled), understanding of the lyrics and their emotional potential, innately swinging time, a sense of humor, clear delivery, an ability to improvise on the same level as the best instrumentalists . . .

Molly Ryan, whose new CD I am celebrating here, SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT, knows the jazz tradition but isn’t trapped inside it.  She has a lovely pure voice, with an especially crystalline upper register, but she isn’t imprisoned by that either.   

cd-songbirdinthemoonlight  When I first heard Molly sing a few years ago, I thought she had good qualities in abundance: she swung, she was enthusiastic without overacting, she had fine time and clear diction, and she sang as if she knew what the words meant.  Her second choruses didn’t simply repeat her first, and she sounded greatly like Helen Ward.  Now, I’m not always in favor of what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like” as an artistic goal, but Helen Ward was someone special, her vocal beauties not always recognized.  She was passionately earnest without being histrionic, and she had a sweet little cry in her voice — hard to explain but instantly recognizable. 

Molly’s CD shows that she has completely understood the lessons Ward taught on every record date.  Even better, Molly sounds very much like herself.  And what, you might ask, does that sound like?  The flip answer would be, “Buy the CD and find out for yourself,” but my readers deserve better.  Molly’s voice is sweet without being sticky, with a certain winsomeness.  She isn’t venturing into the dark land of High Tragedy on this CD, except for her evocation of “All the Sad Young Men”.  She swings easily and conveys feeling with great style.  A gentle tenderness imbues every track.  I particularly appreciated her warm approach to “I Was Lucky” and “Around the World,” although she drives “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” in fine style.   

The Twenties tradition was that there usually was a gap between the soloist and the accompaniment, or the singer and the band — Bessie Smith sang majestically but her colleagues were sometimes leaden.  Or we waited for Putney Dandridge to finish so that Chu Berry could play.  Here, Molly exists easily and comfortably on the same high level as the fine jazz players around her: Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor; Mark Shane on piano; Kevin Dorn on drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, on three of the eighteen tracks. 

In Levinson’s graceful clarinet playing I hear a good deal of Mr. Goodman, but he isn’t merely copying the King’s pet phrases.  He is mobile without being ornate, always to the point.  His tenor playing, smooth and persuasive, reminds me of Eddie Miller (someone whose name you don’t hear often, which is a pity).  And his homespun singing in “By Myself” is quietly charming.  Kevin Dorn knows all there is to know about irresistibly swinging brushwork that urges the band forward without drmanding the spotlight.  I’d like everyone to pay much closer attention to Mark Shane — his solos dance and glitter; his accompaniment lifts and enlivens.  Shane’s four-bar introductions are wonderful compositions in themselves.  And Jon-Erik is in splendid empathic form on “It’s Wonderful,” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This is a wonderfully-realized CD, with beautifully intimate recorded sound courtesy of Peter Karl, a rewardingly diversified repertoire, insightful and gracious liner notes . . . . I couldn’t ask for anything more except for a sequel in the immediate future.  For more information about Molly, visit her website at www.mollyryan.com.  To purchase this CD, email loupgarous@aol.com., or visit www.loupgarous.com.  Of course, both Molly and Dan will have copies at their gigs, which will afford you the double pleasure of hearing them live and taking home a jazz souvenir.